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You’ve probably found your way to this snowboarding tips for beginners article because you’re considering going snowboarding for the first time, or you’ve already started snowboarding and want to sharpen your skills. I get it – as a first-time snowboarder at the ripe age of 27, I spent a long time navigating the bunny hills and green runs before feeling comfortable and speedy on my board. There is no magical formula to learn snowboarding for beginners, but there are some things you can do to make the learning process much easier. To help you get going on the slopes as quickly as possible, I’ve compiled the best beginner snowboarding tips that helped me start shredding the slopes successfully in just a couple of days.

Before Hitting the Slopes: Beginner Snowboarding Tips

1. Make sure you have the proper gear

Having the right gear can make or break your experience riding in the snow. Snowboarding for beginners is hard enough, and having clothes that aren’t suitable for snow will make it even harder to learn! Think about it – without the right clothes and equipment, you’ll be cold, wet, and weighted down by damp, heavy clothes that won’t dry. On the other hand, with high-quality gear, you’ll stay warm, dry, and free to enjoy the slopes. The most important things to have for your first time on the slopes are:

  • A waterproof jacket
  • A waterproof pair of pants
  • Comfortable base layers
  • Thick socks
  • Mittens or gloves
  • Neck gaiter
  • Helmet
  • Goggles

You don’t need anything fancy for your first time on the slopes. We’d recommend digging through your closet and finding clothes you already have before investing tons of money into high-end ski or snowboard gear. Just make sure to avoid moisture-absorbing fabrics like cotton or denim, and instead opt for moisture-wicking wool or technical synthetics like nylon and polyester.

In addition to snow-friendly gear, we’d strongly recommend getting some protective gear for your first few days on the slopes. These can include helmets, wrist guards, knee pads, and padded shorts for added protection when you fall. It’s common to end up with injured or bruised wrists, knees, shins, and tailbones from snowboarding, so taking these small preventative steps ahead of time can help mitigate the risk of injury when you’re on the slopes for the first time.


Our Snowboarding Gear Guides


An example of a trail map from Aspen/Snowmass – you can see the different lifts and color-coded trails, as well as lodges, eateries, and other points of reference.

2. Plan your day on the slopes in advance

Before you head out to the resort of your choice, it’s a good idea to plan out your day so you can maximize your time learning and riding. If you haven’t chosen a resort yet, you can so some destination research to find the nearest ski resort to your own city. Generally, the larger resorts will have a wider range of runs, and typically offer the best resources (lessons, rentals, etc.) for beginners.

After choosing the resort you’re going to explore, check out the weather conditions and slope reports on the resort’s website. For learning, it’s wise to avoid days where it’s going to rain or be too hot, which results in poor snow conditions. Sometimes, certain resorts have to close several runs due to inclement weather, so you’ll want to make sure the beginner terrain is open for your desired dates.

Lastly, check out a trail map for the resort you’re planning on visiting. A trail map is an illustrated map that shows the various groomed trails available at the park. Usually, ski resorts use the following designations:

  • Green square/green trails = beginner-friendly trails
  • Blue circle/blue trails = intermediate trails
  • Black diamond/black trails = advanced trails
  • Double black diamond/black trails = expert-only trails
  • Orange bar/orange areas = terrain parks

You can use the trail map to determine best areas for beginner riding. There’s usually a learning “bunny hill” at each resort that’s smaller and milder than the longer runs, and this is always a place to begin. You can also map out a few green runs you’d like to try and take note of the names of the lifts that service them (you definitely don’t want to get on the wrong lift, only to realize there are no easy slopes coming down from it!). In the beginning, you’ll want to avoid narrow trails, advanced trails, trails with trees or obstacles, and terrain parks.

3. Book a lesson (& look for deals)

If you have the money to invest in a lesson, we’d strongly recommend taking one for your first day on the slopes. Not only will a professional instructor be able to teach you much more quickly than a YouTube video or a friend (or an Urban Outdoors article about snowboarding tips for beginners…), but they can also give you real-time feedback and tips to help you squash bad habits from the get-go.

Usually, resorts offer two types of lessons: group lessons and private lessons. Group lessons are typically cheaper and provide instruction to a small group. Some of the drawbacks of group lessons are less personalized attention, potentially having to take a lesson with young children, and having to cater the group’s teachings to the least advanced person (meaning you can’t progress at your own pace).

Private lessons, on the other hand, are much more individualized, but they’re quite a bit more expensive. Typically, resorts will offer hourly, half-day, and full-day private lessons for just you or a small group of family and friends. I opted for a 3-hour private snowboarding lesson with Adam at Okemo Mountain Resort on my third day of wiping out constantly on the mountain, and it helped immensely.

Pro tip: Lots of ski resorts offer beginner deals that include rentals, lessons, and lift tickets for a heavily discounted price. If you are interested in learning how to snowboard, look out for these deals so you can save some money when you book.

4. Determine your stance

Once you have a plan for hitting the slopes, you’ll want to figure out your snowboarding stance. Your stance dictates which will be your front foot and which foot will be your back foot on the board. Unlike some other guides to snowboarding for beginners, we recommend formulating a hypothesis for your stance before heading to the resort so you can make the rental/learning process much easier on yourself.

Some people, especially those who have played certain sports or ridden a board before, will know intuitively which foot feels most comfortable in the forward position. Personally, I was a gymnast for many years growing up and tumbled left-footed, so I felt more comfortable with my left foot forward.

You’ll hear many people refer to these stances as “regular-footed” and “goofy-footed.” Regular means your left foot is forward in the board, and goofy means your right foot is forward. Generally, your back foot should be your more dominant foot. If you aren’t sure which foot should go forward, there are a couple of ways you can figure it out:

  • Think of how you’d kick a soccer ball. If you’d naturally kick with your right foot, you’re likely to ride with your left foot forward (regular). If you’d kick with your left foot, you’re likely to ride goofy-footed.
  • Have someone push you (lightly) from behind. Whichever foot you put forward for balance is likely to be your front foot on the board.
  • Take the stance you’d take while boxing or punching something. Which foot is forward? If it’s your left foot, you may be regular footed. If it’s your right foot, you may be goofy-footed.

Note that none of these tricks are “end-all be-all” ways to determine your snowboarding stance. The #1 best way to figure out if you are regular- or goofy-footed is to get on a board and see what feels right. Just like choosing your dominant writing hand, you can’t force the wrong stance.

5. Get in shape

None of our snowboarding tips for beginners will be as helpful as simply being in good physical shape before you hit the slopes. Having good amounts of physical strength and stamina is a critical part of being able to snowboard well and for long periods of time. Those who exercise at the gym regularly or are active outdoors with activities like hiking, climbing, or paddling should be totally fine out on the slopes. In particular, having strong legs and core muscles will help you tremendously with many of the movements necessary in snowboarding.

With that said, you may find yourself sore after snowboarding for a day or two, no matter how fit you are. This is normal! Snowboarding often works muscles you may not even know you have, and you’ll definitely feel those muscles after spending a long day shredding.

When You’re On the Slopes: Snowboarding Tips for Beginners

6. Don’t be afraid of falling

Before we get into any of the other snowboarding tips for beginners, the most important thing to know (in our opinion) is that you are absolutely, positively, definitely going to fall during the learning process. Ask anyone – even advanced snowboarders wipe out regularly! In our opinion, no list of beginner snowboarding tips is complete without one section addressing the fear of falling. The faster you accept and embrace the fear of falling, the quicker you’ll learn and develop confidence on the slopes.

It’s normal to be afraid to fall or injure yourself, and it’s a natural response to something scary or unfamiliar. But, if you come prepared with the right mindset and gear (don’t forget those helmets, wrist guards, knee pads, and padded shorts), you can take any falls or wipe outs like a champion. If you come to the slopes ready to learn (and fall), you’ll find that it’s not so terrifying after all.

Pro tip: Wear a helmet when you’re learning how to snowboard. You’ll often see people skiing and riding the slopes without one (including some of the images in this article), and we don’t think that’s very smart. Helmets can protect your brain in the event of a crash or fall, and these days, they make helmets so comfy and lightweight that you won’t even notice they’re there! You can usually rent helmets from any local ski shop or resort, but we’d recommend buying your own, especially given the events of 2020. Click here for our complete guide to the best ski & snowboard helmets for any budget.

7. Know the anatomy of your snowboarding gear

Whether you’re renting your equipment or using your own, you’ll need to know how to use your snowboarding gear before you step on the snow. A typical snowboarding setup is comprised of a board, bindings, and a pair of snowboarding boots.

The size of your board, bindings, and boots will depend on your height, weight, and shoe size. If you’re renting, the attendant at the shop should be able to get you set up with the right sizes with a few quick measurements. Make sure everything fits snugly but not too tightly – snowboarding boots are usually fairly comfortable and should fit right into the bindings on your board.

One of the most critical snowboarding tips for beginners is to learn the workings of these pieces of gear as soon as you get it, including how to buckle into your bindings, how to release your bindings, and how to tighten and adjust your boots. Buckling in and releasing your boots is something you’ll be doing often as a beginner, so it can really help to practice getting in and out of your bindings in your rental equipment before heading out to the slopes.

8. Learn to skate

The first step of snowboarding is getting to know your board and feeling comfortable riding it while it’s moving. “Skating” on the snow is the best way to do this. It’s a critical skill to have while moving around on flat surfaces or getting off the chairlift (which you’ll probably need to do quite frequently as a snowboarder).

Skating is basically riding the snowboard like a skateboard, with your front foot buckled into your bindings, while your back foot is unbuckled and pushing on the snow to propel you forward. You can either push the board with your foot behind you or in front of you. To stop, hang your heel off the back of the board or your toe off the front of the board, and pressing it lightly into the ground.

Here’s a great video that explains how to skate on a snowboard:

Video credit: Snowboard Addiction

We’d recommend experimenting with skating on a flat, snowy area or on a very slight incline. Don’t choose a hill that’s too steep, or you may have trouble stopping yourself!

9. Get comfortable on your edges with heel and toe slides

Once you’re comfortable skating on your board, it’s time to buckle into your board and learn how to get on your edges! Of all of the snowboarding tips for beginners on our list, this one is most important for learning how to control your board down the slopes.

There are two edges on a snowboard – your heel edge and your toe edge – which dictate the speed and direction you’ll be able to go. Many people start off with heel and toe slides as a drill to get a feel for your edges.

To do a heel slide, start by sitting on your butt and standing up on your board facing the bottom of the hill. If you have trouble standing, grab the edge of your board with one hand in between your feet and shift your weight forward. Once you’re standing, dig your heels slightly into the ground, then release them slightly. When you release them and stand with flatter feet, you should move forward just a little bit. As you begin digging your heels into the snow again, you should come to a stop. Do this several times to learn how much pressure will bring you to a stop and how much pressure will let you slide.

To do a toe slide, flip over to your hands and knees and stand up facing the top of the hill. This may feel unnatural to you, and that’s completely normal! Once you’re standing, you’ll do the same type of movement, except with your toes – you’ll dig your toes into the snow to stop, then release then to slide backward down the hill, then repeat over and over again as you continue to slide slowly down the hill.

This snowboarder is crushing her toe turns!

10. Master your J and S turns

Once you’ve learned how to skate and slide on your heels and toes, it’s time to start riding. J turns (and, subsequently, S turns) are critical movements that are taught in all lessons on snowboarding for beginners.

J turns combine skating and toe/heel slides to create a “J” shape on the slopes. To do this, you’ll skate straight on your board (with your back foot unbuckled to begin with), then apply pressure to your heels. While doing this, look in the direction you are turning. This heel turn will get your board to turn in the direction of your front foot (left for regular-footed, right for goofy-footed).

To turn the other way, you’ll start by skating straight forward, then you’ll apply pressure into your toes while looking in the direction of your back foot (right for regular-footed, left for goofy-footed).

S turns are simply linked J turns. You’ll start by riding straight down the hill, turning onto your heels, then riding straight again and turning onto your toes. This creates an “S” shape with your movements, hence its name. Most snowboarding is a series of large or small S turns, so once you’ve mastered this skill, you’re snowboarding!

Here’s an awesome, super helpful video on linking J turns to make S turns:

Video credit: SnowboardProCamp

11. Traverse the slopes

Traversing the slopes means riding diagonally down the slopes instead of straight down them. Once you’re beginning to link your J turns, you’ll want to traverse a little bit in between your turns. To do this, apply a tiny bit of pressure on your heel edge or toe edge, but not enough to come to a full stop. This should help you move slowly across the slope before making another turn.

12. Look (and turn your body) where you want to go

This is one of the most commonly used snowboarding tips for beginners, and for a good reason. If there were just one most helpful piece of advice I’d recommend on snowboarding for beginners, this is the one I’d choose. A lot of people (myself included) look toward the ground or the bottom of the hill at all times, but this can lead to poor weight control and, ultimately, falling.

Instead, look toward the direction you want to go, and align your body with the direction you’re looking. This means you’ll want to bring your gaze to the point where you want to go, then bring your neck, shoulders, and hips in alignment with that. When your whole body begins to shift its weight in the right direction, your board will follow naturally.

Beware the common issue of looking in one direction but not aligning the rest of your body with your gaze. This may cause you to catch an edge or attempt to turn when your weight isn’t distributed accordingly over your feet, causing a fall. Over time and with lots of practice, you’ll start to be able to feel where your weight needs to go to move how you want. Don’t try to force it!

Look where you want to go and your board will follow!

13. Bend your knees

Keeping your knees bent will help you avoid falling by absorbing the bumps caused by uneven ground. A lot of beginners make the mistake of locking up or stiffening their legs, often out of fear or nervousness. However, the “looser” you can make your knees, the less chance you’ll have of falling and the smoother your ride will be.

In the beginning, I found it helpful to slightly exaggerate bending my knees, especially on turns where my tendency was to lean too far on my back leg. Bending my knees more on my turns helped me center my weight and push weight forward onto my front leg. I also discovered that bent knees were particularly helpful when riding straight, as it helped me to keep my weight forward on my board instead of back (which often resulted in falls).

14. Avoid leaning too far on your back foot

Leaning too far on your back foot on turns or when getting off chairlifts is a natural tendency, but one that often ends in a wipeout (or slipping around, at the very least). It may feel unnatural, but it’s important to learn how to shift your weight toward the center of your board and forward toward your front foot. This will make turns and changing edges a lot easier, and will enable your front foot to control your movements (rather than your back foot acting as a rudder).

My snowboard instructor even went as far as saying that I should try to practice riding as if my back foot were lifted up slightly. I haven’t exactly attempted this, but it did help me think more about where my weight was centered as I was starting to ride more comfortably down the slopes.

After Hitting the Slopes: Snowboarding Tips for Beginners Moving Forward

15. Stretch & recover

With the allure of apres-ski drinking and hot-tubbing, it’s easy to forget that snowboarding is a serious physical activity that should be treated like any other sport. This means that stretching before and after hitting the slopes is critical for keeping your body slope-ready and ache-free. Doing activities like yoga that promote stretching and strengthening is a great way to wind down after a day of snowboarding. Alternatively, you can do some of these snowboarding stretches once you’re done for the day.

16. Drink tons of water

In the winter, it’s easy to get dehydrated because of the cold temperatures. However, anyone who has been snowboarding before knows that you can work up a sweat, and that hydration is incredibly important for staying in top shape on the slopes. Bring an insulated water bottle with hot water to warm up in between runs (or cold water, if you prefer it!) and be sure to sip on it throughout the day to stay hydrated.

After a day on the slopes, be sure to drink even more water to keep yourself hydrated throughout the evenings. Winter dehydration is a huge risk, and while doing energy-intensive things like skiing or snowboarding, it can be even more dangerous.

17. Make a learning advancement plan

Once you’ve gotten the hang of all the basic skills and drills we discussed in this post, you’ll finally be riding more or less proficiently down an easy slope. But what’s next? Once you’ve gotten the basics down, it’s always a good idea to think about what you’d like to learn – be it riding more advanced slopes, doing jumps and tricks and “butters,” riding in the backcountry, or all of the above. Use these aspirations to set goals for yourself.

For example, after I spent a couple days getting used to the green runs, I set a goal to do one blue run by the end of my first week and to write my own guide to snowboarding tips for beginners (which is what you’re reading now!). After that, I set a goal to do a double black run, learn to jump, and ride at least one terrain park before the end of the season. I’m still working on some of those goals, but hope to crush them by the end of this season.

As you get more and more comfortable on the slopes, consider investing in your own snowboard, bindings, and boots so that you can progress even further! Usually, the rental boards and equipment are less-than-ideal for advancing in your snowboarding, and having your own gear can help you improve and grow in the sport because it’s higher-quality, more lightweight, and fit exactly to your needs and preferences.


Snowboarding Tips for Beginners: Additional Resources

  • Snowboard Pro Camp – I loved these videos when I was learning and used them almost every day I was out on the slopes. Kevin shares some of the best snowboarding tips for beginners and has easy-to-follow tutorials to go along with them!
  • Backcountry – Backcountry is my absolute favorite place to get ski and snowboarding gear. I’ve bought basically all of my snowboarding gear this season from Backcountry and they often have really great sales.

Related Articles

When you’ve got someone close to you who’s constantly longing to strap on skis and hit the slopes, it might be difficult to think of an appropriate gift. A LOT of snowboarding and skiing gear is a) expensive, b) size-dependent, and c) not intuitive for people who don’t do those sports, so buying a present for these folks can be tricky. Don’t worry, we’ve got your back – this massive guide has 30 incredible gifts for skiers and snowboarders that they’ll use on the slopes and remember for years to come.

Most Practical Gifts for Skiers & Snowboarders

Smith Ski Goggles

Order on REI | Backcountry | Amazon

Goggles are a snowboarder or skier’s best friend: they keep snow, water, and wind out of your eyes, plus they make you look pretty freaking awesome. Smith ski goggles are very durable and come in a variety of colors, styles, and sizes.

One of the best things about Smith goggles is that they also come in a budget-friendly version that won’t break the bank – the Smith Drift for women and the Smith Range for men. There are also higher-end models that Smith makes that have all the bells and whistles you could possibly want.

Wildhorn Ski Helmet

A solid ski helmet is one of the best gifts for skiers and snowboarders because it will come in handy every time they’re on the slopes. While prices for these range substantially, we’ve found that Wildhorn helmets are well-respected as their ski helmets are comfortable, practical, and come with a built-in goggle strap.

Smartwool Base Layers

Buy on REI | Backcountry | Amazon

All snowboarders and skiers need warm baselayers, and they make for one of the most practical snowboarding and skiing gifts. Smartwool’s Merino 250 baselayer line (for both men and women offers extra-warm, cozy layers that wick sweat and moisture seamlessly on the slopes.

Burton Ski & Snowboard Jacket

A warm, waterproof ski jacket is essential to a fun day on the slopes. While there are tons of brands that make outerwear, Burton ski jackets are designed especially for winter sports, making them perfect gifts for snowboarders and skiers. Plus, they come in all kinds of fun patterns and colors!

The North Face Ski Pants

Order on REI | Backcountry | Amazon

Like a good, durable coat, waterproof ski pants are essential because, as everyone knows, skiers and snowboarders spent plenty of time sitting in the snow. The North Face Freedom Pants (for men & women) are some of the warmest and most durable ski pants that are perfect for a full day of shredding the slopes.

Hestra Heli Ski Gloves

Buy on REI | Backcountry | Amazon

Insulated gloves are a skier or snowboarder’s best friends, and the Hestra Heli Ski Gloves are excellent additions to any skier’s or snowboarder’s gear set. They come with cuffs so you won’t lose them, and they have e-tip functionality so you can use your touch screens while wearing them! (By the way, we have two complete guides on the best ski gloves and ski mittens – check those out for more options!)

Epic Pass

While neither cheap nor durable, an Epic Pass is the ultimate gift for the travel-loving skier. Usable at over 60 ski resorts all around the United States, the Epic Pass is one of the best gifts for skiers and snowboarders that money can buy.

Cheap Snowboarding & Skiing Gifts ($30 or Less)

Darn Tough Ski Socks

Order on REI | Backcountry | Amazon

Darn Tough ski socks make great companions out on the slopes because they’re comfortable, durable, and warm! We love them because of the extra cushioning they give our feet on cold, snowy days. Give one pair or a few for an extra special skiing or snowboarding gift this year.

What’s better than regular wool socks? Wool socks with mountains on them, duh. Skiers and snowboarders love to show off their love for the mountains, and these mountain-themed Darn Tough Yeti wool socks will surely come in handy on the slopes and for apres-ski.

HotHands Hand/Foot Warmers

When you’re out on the slopes on especially cold days, it’s so easy to get cold in your extremities. That’s why we recommend HotHands hand and foot warmers as one of the best gifts for skiers and snowboarders. They’re inexpensive and are perfect to tuck into gloves or boots for a blast of warmth in otherwise arctic conditions.

Packable Clothesline

You know what happens if ski/snowboard gear doesn’t dry properly? It starts to STINK. Luckily, for ski trips and winter getaways, a packable clothesline is a great tool to hang damp clothes after long days on the slopes. It is a cheap and practical gift for snowboarders and skiers that they’ll use every time they’re at a ski resort.

Snacks for the Slopes

Snacks are a gift that keeps on giving, especially out on the slopes where you’re expending energy and burning calories left and right.

From our own experience, some snacks that skiers and snowboarders like include:

  • Clif bars
  • Kind bars
  • Gu gels (caffeinated and uncaffeinated)
  • Trail mix
  • Jerky (vegan and meat varieties)

Hertel Super Hot Sauce Ski/Snowboard Wax

Once you’re a more advanced skier or snowboarder, you’ll most likely want to wax your gear to optimize your speed on the slopes. Hertel Super Hot Sauce Ski & Snowboard Wax is an all-temperature wax that lasts for three days and doesn’t require an iron (though you can use it that way if you’d like). It’s one of the most useful and budget friendly gifts for skiers and snowboarders that they can use every time they hit the slopes.

Fifty Places to Ski and Snowboard Before You Die by Chris Santella

If your loved one is a person who prefers books with photos and gorgeous visuals, Fifty Places to Ski and Snowboard Before You Die by Chris Santella is a fantastic book to leaf through and get inspired. You’ll learn about the most incredible, jaw-dropping, and challenging trails in the entire world, with some stunning photos to boot.

The Art of Fear by Kristen Ulmer

There’s nothing better than retreating back to your cabin after a day on the slopes and spending the evening reading a good book…about hitting the slopes! The Art of Fear was written by professional skier Kristen Ulmer about embracing fear and how that applies to snow sports and life in general. This easy, inspiring read is fantastic for those who love snow sports as well as people wanting to understand how to handle fear better.

Under an Arctic Sky by Chris Burkard

Chris Burkard’s Under an Arctic Sky is an epic film about surfing under the northern lights. It isn’t exactly about skiing or snowboarding, but it’s a really spectacular story about chasing waves and winter sports in some of Iceland’s most gorgeous landscapes. It’s a great gift to give your winter-loving friends and family…then watch it with them.

Freeskier Magazine Subscription

What’s more inspiring or entertaining than leafing through an award-winning magazine on your favorite topic? (Answer: nothing.) Freeskier Magazine is all about skiing and snowboarding, and a subscription is one of the most unique skiing and snowboarding gifts you can give to your favorite winter sports lover.

Useful & Clever Skiing & Snowboarding Gifts

Turtle Fur Neck Warmer

Order on Turtle Fur | Amazon

For outdoor lovers, there are few things as versatile as a Buff. They advertise that it can be worn in 12+ different ways, and it’s touted as 4 times warmer than microfiber. A Turtle Fur Neck Warmer is great for skiers and snowboarders to wear under a thick coat, to use as a scarf, or to hold their hair back under their helmets.

(By the way, we’ve also got a complete guide to the best neck gaiters/neck warmers for skiers and snowboarders!)

PHOOZY Thermal Phone Case

If you’ve ever been out in the cold for an extended amount of time with your phone, you’ll know that the batteries tend to die much more quickly. A PHOOZY Thermal Phone Case can keep your phone warm when you’re not using it, maintaining the battery for longer and ensuring it doesn’t get soaked in the snow.

Hydro Flask Water Bottle

Hydration is a very important part of staying healthy while participating in winter sports, as the action can definitely still dehydrate you. Whether your skier/snowboarder likes their water hot or cold, a Hydro Flask water bottle can keep it that way. Hydro Flask boasts that its bottles keep water cold for 24 hours and hot for 12 hours…definitely enough for a full day out skiing or snowboarding.

Foam Roller

Spending a day (or several) out on the slopes can be fun, but can also cause all kinds of muscle aches and pains. A foam roller is a great tool for stretching and relieving tension after hours of active winter sports, and is one of the best gifts for snowboarders and skiers.

Ski or Snowboard Boots

One of the things that’s most uncomfortable about rental gear is the footwear. You can partially solve this problem for your favorite winter sports lover by purchasing them a pair of their own ski or snowboard boots. You can find tons of great ski and snowboard boots on REI or Backcountry.

Note: ski boots and snowboard boots are different, so make sure you buy the correct kind for your loved one’s preferences!

Athletico Boot Backpack

Once your beloved skier or snowboarder is more seasoned, they’re going to need a place to put all their awesome gear (like the stuff in this list!). The Athletico Boot Backpack is the perfect all-in-one bag for skiers and snowboarders. There’s space for a helmet, boots, goggles, and extra gear, all in a lightweight and breathable fabric.

Black Diamond Ski Poles

Order on REI | Backcountry | Amazon

While lots of ski resorts do offer pole rentals, if you’d prefer some that are more lightweight and better customized to your size, these Black Diamond Razor Carbon ski poles are a fantastic companion for skiers anywhere. Unfortunately, these aren’t relevant for snowboarders, but they work well as a gift for mid-level to advanced skiers looking for a gear upgrade!

Technology Gifts for Skiers & Snowboarders

Jomst Rechargeable Hand Warmer

While we mentioned some disposable hand warmers earlier in this guide, we’d be remiss if we didn’t offer a zero-waste solution as well. Like we said earlier, keeping extremities warm while out on the slopes is a real challenges for skiers and snowboarders, and a Jomst rechargeable hand warmer can be the perfect solution for long days out in the snow.

Waterproof Battery Pack

It gets harder to keep your phone charged the longer you’re out in the cold, so you can probably imagine this being a big challenge for skiers and snowboarders. If you give the gift of a waterproof solar battery pack, however, your skier or snowboarder can recharge while they’re in the sun/snow, and plug in while they’re on the lifts. Pretty nifty, eh?

DryGuy DX Forced Air Boot Dryer

Full disclosure: this is a totally unnecessary item, but a really cool and useful one for skiers and snowboarders, especially if they’re planning to hit the slopes several days in a row or throughout the course of a season. The more someone skis or boards, the more damp their boots end up – this DryGuy DX Boot Dryer ensures that they’re fully dry before the next use.

Garmin Instinct Tundra Watch

Order on Amazon | REI

Like many other athletes, skiers and snowboarders are often obsessed with tracking stats and logging their trails. The Garmin Tundra watch does exactly that and was designed specifically for winter sports, and is one of the more useful gifts for skiers and snowboarders out there.

GoPro Hero9 Black

Order on Amazon | REI

A GoPro Hero9 Black is an excellent gift for the avid skier/snowboarder who wants to document their adventures. Portable, weatherproof, and high-quality, a GoPro will help your favorite winter sports lover capture and relive their favorite moments on the slopes again and again.

Pro tip: if you decide to get a GoPro as a skiing/snowboarding gift, don’t forget a helmet mount so they can use it hands-free!

Additional Resources


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Hikers are a funny breed: they’re always outdoors, they love weird obstacles like chains and scrambles, and they are OBSESSED with their favorite gear. Ask any hiker what their favorite hiking gear is and they’ll probably spit out a recommendation that has at least 4 words in it. Needless to say, choosing the best gifts for hikers can be challenging, because whatever you give needs to be able to withstand many, many miles of adventures.

Luckily, as avid hikers ourselves, we’ve compiled this guide to the best hiking gifts that your loved ones will actually use out on the trails. Trust us – we’ve used every single one of them ourselves!

Overall Best Gifts for Hikers

Waterproof Hiking Boots

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The only item that a hiker really needs to get out on the trails is a good set of shoes, and a set of waterproof boots is one of the best hiking gifts for an adventurer that loves to be outdoors, rain or shine. The Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 Boots (for men and women) lightweight, durable, and waterproof, with thick treads and Gore-Tex that will keep your feet safe and dry, no matter the conditions.

Black Diamond Trekking Poles

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Hikers often face trails and conditions where extra support is extremely helpful. That’s why one of the most useful gifts for hikers is a set of durable, portable trekking poles. Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles are perfect for traveling hikers, as they’ll fit into a standard suitcase and are extremely light weight.

Hydro Flask Water Bottle

Hydration is a very important part of staying healthy while hiking, as hours in the sun and on the trails can dehydrate you. To keep water ice cold (or steaming hot during cold weather), a Hydro Flask water bottle is the perfect hiking companion. Hydro Flask boasts that its bottles keep water cold for 24 hours and hot for 12 hours…definitely enough insulation capacity for a full day out on the trails in any conditions.

Osprey Day Pack

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Hikers need to carry gear, water, snacks, and extra clothing for longer hikes, and having a day pack that feels good and distributes weight evenly is absolutely critical. Plus, they definitely don’t want to carry all their stuff in your hands while they’re scrambling up rocks, right? Osprey day packs are hands down the best and most durable option for day packs – we recommend a size between 18 and 30 liters for day hikes.

The North Face Venture Rain Jacket

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Every hiker knows that conditions in the mountains can change in an instant. That’s why we recommend a rain jacket as one of the smartest and most practical gifts for hikers. We love The North Face Venture 2 Jacket (for women and men) – it is a versatile, lightweight, waterproof jacket for rainy and wet hiking conditions. Ours have lasted for years and keep moisture out in rainy or adverse weather.

PrAna Hiking Pants

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Comfy clothing is an important piece of gear for any hiker, and pants are no exception. The best hiking pants are sweat-wicking, breathable, and flexible. PrAna’s Brion pants for men and Halle pants for women are the best hiking pants we’ve found – they’re lightweight, stretchy, and durable for day hikes and multi-day treks.

Merino Wool Base Layers

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Many hikers, especially those who hike at higher altitudes, need warm base layers, and they make for some of the most practical hiking gifts out there. Smartwool’s Merino 250 baselayer line offers extra-warm, cozy layers that wick sweat and moisture seamlessly on the trails.

Patagonia Compressible Puffer

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When hiking in colder temperatures, it can be important to bring some extra layers, especially if you’re going to be at altitude. The Patagonia Down Sweater is our favorite compressible puffer because it’s a sustainably-made, warm, and cozy thermal layer for cold conditions. When paired with a rain jacket, it can keep hikers warm even in light snow!

Merrell Trail Runners

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Not all trails warrant wearing big, bulky waterproof hiking shoes. In some cases, lightweight, breathable trail runners can be a much better option, especially in hot climates. Merrell Trail Runners are some of the best trail running shoes on the market, and they make styles for men and women in a variety of different colors.

Cheap Gifts for Hikers on a Budget ($25 and Under)

Smartwool Hiking Socks

It might seem obvious, but think, durable socks are a must-have item in any hiker’s wardrobe. Smartwool’s hiking socks are great companions out on the trails! They’re warm, quick drying, and are super cushioned and comfortable. Give one pair or a few as extra special gifts for hikers in your life.

Quick Dry Towel

A towel can come in handy on any hiking trip. From humid, sweaty trails to impromptu swimming sessions, hikers can always use a towel that’s small and thin enough to carry around in a day pack. Youphoria Outdoors makes an affordable quick-dry microfiber towel that comes in a lot of fun colors and is perfect for shoving in your bag on the way out to the trails.

Neff Beanie

In colder or windy conditions, a beanie is one of the most practical gifts for hikers because it can help keep them safe and warm. For hiking, you don’t need anything fancy, so something like this affordable beanie from Neff is a perfect stocking stuffer for your favorite hiker.

The North Face e-Tip Hiking Gloves

While only really relevant for colder climates, a good pair of gloves can help hikers stay outdoors later in the season, and in higher altitudes where the air tends to be chillier and windier. The North Face e-Tip Gloves are a great hiking companion because they work with touch screens like phones and tablets…meaning you don’t have to take them off for anything, really.

Hiking Snacks

Snacks are a gift that keeps on giving, especially out on the trails where you’re expending energy and burning calories left and right.

From our own experience, some snacks that hikers like include:

  • Clif bars
  • Kind bars
  • Gu gels (caffeinated and uncaffeinated)
  • Trail mix
  • Jerky (vegan and meat varieties)

Carabiners

Carabiners are literally the most useful and versatile item for hikers. Use them to strap things on your bags, to your pants, or onto trees. Hook your bags to your tent while you’re sleeping, or hang dry wet clothes. You can buy a set of 10 colorful carabiners for cheap, and they’ll last your hiker forever.

Hiking Trowel

When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go…and a trowel can help you cover up when you’re doing your business in the woods. The best, most useful trowels are lightweight and have a small loop to hook to the outside of your backpack (with a carabiner!). This hiking trowel is a great, inexpensive gift option for the serious hiker.

Emergency Blanket

What better way to show your loved one you care than by buying them something that will keep them safe? An emergency blanket is a must for hikers, and while its one of the more ‘boring’ gifts for hikers on our list, we truly believe every hiker should bring an emergency blanket with them on hikes, every time. In the event of a natural disaster, or if hikers get lost or injured, an emergency blanket as a thermal insulation tool can mean the different between life and death.

Duct Tape

Duct tape is a hiker’s best friend. Hikers are notorious for destroying their stuff (myself included, no shame!), and duct tape is something we always bring to help mend tears, holes, and animal bites in our stuff until we can get it properly fixed (or, sometimes, forever). If you’re looking for one of the cheapest and most useful gifts for hikers, why not grab a roll or two of Duck Tape duct tape? They come in all kinds of fun colors and will definitely be used at some point or another on the trails by your favorite hiker.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

There are few novels in the hiking genre than Wild by Cheryl Strayed. This popular hiking novel is a classic, especially for adventurous female hikers who are looking for an emotional and physical journey through the Pacific Crest Trail with renowned author Cheryl Strayed.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

For a great fireside book or a read for the hammock after a long day on the trails, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson is a quintessential read. As an intimate, detailed, entertaining journey into the backwoods of the Appalachian Trail, it’s a fantastic and memorable read for anyone who is passionate about exploration, hiking, or seeing the world and nature from a different lens.

Epic Hikes of the World by Lonely Planet

For a more visual read, Lonely Planet’s Epic Hikes of the World is an inspiring book to have around any hiker’s home. While it’s a hardcover book and not really suitable for taking on the trails, this book is one of the most memorable and fun gifts for hikers in their homes. Leafing through this book is like taking a hiking adventure around the world, with some of the most fun, beautiful, and treacherous treks all over the globe (and world-class photos, too!).

Super Practical Gifts for Hikers

Buff

For outdoor lovers, there are few things as versatile as a Buff. They advertise that it can be worn in 12+ different ways, and it’s touted as 4 times warmer than microfiber. A Buff is great for hikers to wear as a scarf, to tie hair back, or to protect their faces from dust and wind.

ENO DoubleNest Hammock

When you’ve been hiking for hours and are ready for a rest, there’s no better feeling than setting up your hammock between two tall trees and relaxing with someone you love. An ENO DoubleNest Hammock is one of coolest gifts for hikers that you can give to a person or couple who loves being outdoors…especially out on the trails. It’s super portable, lightweight, and easy to set up basically anywhere.

Black Diamond Head Lamp

Sometimes, the best times to hike are in the early morning and late in the afternoon. However, if your favorite hiker plans to hike in non-optimal daylight, it’s critical to bring a head lamp. Needless to say, a head lamp is one of the best gifts for hikers because it’s truly an essential item. Our favorite head lamp is the Black Diamond Spot – it’s lightweight, durable, and isn’t too expensive.

Polarized Sunglasses

Don’t underestimate how powerful the sun can be on a long day of hiking. One of the most useful gifts for hikers is a pair of high-quality, polarized sunglasses to keep their eyes safe and protected while exposed to the sun. There are tons of polarized sunglasses ranging in style and price available, so you’ll have to choose based on your favorite hiker’s preferences.

Foldable Wide-Brimmed Hat

For hotter or sun-exposed hiking, a brimmed hat is a must to protect hikers’ eyes and faces. As one of the cheaper and more practical gifts for hikers, this wide-brimmed hat is a packable companion for any hiker, especially in places like Zion or Joshua Tree where shady spots can be few and far between.

Platypus Water Reservoir

The only thing better than a sturdy water bottle is not having to bring a water bottle at all! With a water reservoir, a hiker can simply stuff the water bag into their day pack and sip from it as needed from the nozzle throughout the day. The Platypus water reservoir is generally well-liked and durable, and it comes at a reasonable price point, too.

First Aid Kit

While it’s not glamorous, a first aid kit can be one of the best gifts for hikers because it’s a must-have for safety on the trails. A small, portable pre-assembled first aid kit, which includes a small bag to hold everything, is a great starting point for a hike. This one is small and light enough to carry anywhere, including a day pack on the trails.

SteriPen Adventurer UV Water Purification System

For hikers, having access to clean water is a must, so a water purification system is one of the most critical gifts for hikers that you can give. We recommend the USB-rechargeable SteriPen Ultra, which is must lighter than the other products in the SteriPen line, and purifies water using UV light.

Solar Rechargeable Battery Pack

It gets harder to keep your phone charged the longer you’re out on the trails, so you can probably imagine this being a big challenge for hikers. If you give the gift of a waterproof solar battery pack, your favorite hiker can recharge the battery as they’re hiking. Pretty nifty, eh?

Technology Gifts and Gadgets for Hikers

Garmin Instinct Hiking Watch

Like many other athletes, hikers are often obsessed with tracking steps and logging their trails. The Garmin Instinct watch does exactly that and was designed specifically for outdoor adventures. If you want to splurge on a useful and totally awesome gift for an adventurous person in your life, is one of the more innovative gifts for hikers out there.

Garmin Foretrex Hiking GPS

For passionate backcountry hikers, a GPS is a must. While mostly used by adventurous hikers and backpackers, a GPS can come in handy for navigation for any hiker out in the wild. This Garmin Foretrex GPS is wearable and works anywhere, so you don’t need to worry about having “service” of any kind.

Rechargeable Hand Warmers

Keeping extremities warm while out on the trails during cold weather is a real challenges for hikers, and a rechargeable hand warmer can be the perfect solution for long days out in snow or sub-freezing temperatures.

GoPro HERO9 Black

A GoPro Hero Black is an excellent gift for the avid hiker who wants to document their adventures. Portable, weatherproof, and high-quality, a GoPro will help your favorite outdoor lover capture and relive their favorite moments on the trails again and again.

Additional Resources


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While Baltimore may be best known for its Inner Harbor, there are actually several beautiful places to get outdoors in and around the city. Within just a few miles of the city, outdoor lovers can find forests, lakes, canyons, and more! Hiking near Baltimore is a wonderful way to experience nature and get your blood flowing without going too far from the city. We created this guide with some of the best hikes near Baltimore to help you plan your next outdoor adventure!

Looking for the perfect gift for your favorite hiker? Here’s a comprehensive list of our
35 favorite (practical) gifts for hikers, updated for 2020!

Photo Credit: Mike (Flickr CC)

Easy Hikes Near Baltimore

Merryman’s Mill Trail

  • Trail Length: 3.8 miles
  • Location: Loch Raven Reservoir

Boasting beautiful, tranquil trails that run along the Loch Raven Reservoir, the Merryman’s Mill Trail is a quiet, peaceful hike accessible to all levels of hikers. Best done in the early morning hours when the fog hangs over the reservoir waters, this trail combines woodland trails, whispering streams, and varied terrain for a fun hiking experience. You can also find crumbling ruins of historic stone structures along the way! For hikers who enjoy solitude and nature, it’s one of the most peaceful places to go hiking near Baltimore!

Photo Credit: Mark S (Flickr CC)

Kilgore Falls

  • Trail Length: 1.3 miles
  • Location: Rocks State Park

Perfect for families and adventurous hikers of all levels, the Kilgore Falls trail is a short, fun hike to a gorgeous waterfall in Rocks State Park. While it’s one of the more popular (read: crowded) hikes near Baltimore, it’s a fantastic option for those who don’t mind getting a little muddy! The trail is easy and flat and is accessible for children and first-time hikers. Note that the trail also loops above and around the falls – don’t miss out on this part if you want to experience a new perspective!

Stony Run Trail

  • Trail Length: 5.6 miles
  • Location: Wyman Park

For a more urban trail just north of the city, the Stony Run Trail is one of the most convenient hikes near Baltimore for all levels. Waterfalls, tunnels, bridges, and forests are all highlights of this diverse and accessible trail. To make things even better, there have been some recent improvements to the trails, and they’re very well-marked and maintained to ensure hikers’ safety and enjoyment.

The trail does run through neighborhoods and residential areas, so if you’re looking for a complete nature experience, this isn’t it. But if the outdoors is calling you and you don’t want to stray too far, the Stony Run Trail is the perfect option.

Photo Credit: Paul Waldo (Flickr CC)

Swallow Falls Canyon Trail

  • Trail Length: 1.1 miles
  • Location: Swallow Falls State Park

The Swallow Falls Canyon Trail might seem like a short hike, but it really is one of the most beautiful easy hikes near Baltimore. Located in Swallow Falls State Park, the trail brings hikers of all levels to a picturesque waterfall, rocky canyon-like terrain, and peaceful forests. For a quieter hike through some of the most scenic nature in the Baltimore area, the Swallow Falls Canyon Trail is a fantastic, family-friendly option.

Photo Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program (Flickr CC)

Moderate Hikes Near Baltimore

Grist Mill Trail

  • Trail Length: 5.2 miles
  • Location: Patapsco Valley State Park

The Grist Mill Trail in Patapsco Valley State Park is the perfect blend of history and nature. With historic tunnels, beautiful suspension bridges, and miles of old trees and forests, this trail is certainly one of the most diverse places to go hiking near Baltimore. On this journey, you’ll wander past train tracks and stone ruins, along streams and large bridges, and through tranquil nature areas with a shady tree canopy.

Photo Credit: Patrick Gillespie (Flickr CC)

Annapolis Rock via The Appalachian Trail

  • Trail Length: 5.1 miles
  • Location: South Mountain State Park

Have you ever wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail without spending several months on it? The Annapolis Rock Trail is a fantastic place where you can do just that! This absolutely jaw-dropping hike is a 2.5 mile ascent to a very beautiful viewpoint – a rocky outcropping overlooking the surrounding Appalachian Mountains. While the incline can be quite steep, the rewards at the top are well worth the trek.

Pro tip: This is one of the most popular hikes near Baltimore, so go early or on weekdays to avoid the crowds that flock here during peak hours.

Photo Credit: Kay Rodriguez

Maryland Heights Loop

  • Trail Length: 6 miles
  • Location: Harpers Ferry National Historic Park

History enthusiasts will really enjoy the Maryland Heights Loop at Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, an important landmark of the Civil War. Here, the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers converge, as do the borders of three states – Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. However, don’t let this forested, rural area fool you: Harpers Ferry is less than two hours from the city. It’s a perfect place to go hiking near Baltimore on a day trip or weekend getaway.

There are two trails available that stem from the Maryland Heights trailhead – the overlook and the full trail. If you’re strapped for time or want to spend the afternoon exploring the town of Harpers Ferry, we recommend opting for the shorter trail, which brings you to the most stunning viewpoint in the entire park. The viewpoint is full of boulders and captures a bird’s eye glimpse of the convergence of the rivers, as well as the town of Harpers Ferry and the historic iron bridges that lead into it.

CLICK HERE TO READ OUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE MARYLAND HEIGHTS LOOP

Photo Credit: Nicolas Raymond (Flickr CC)

Paw Paw Tunnel Trail

  • Trail Length: 4.9 miles
  • Location: C&O National Historic Park (West Virginia)

Another one of the historic hikes near Baltimore is the Paw Paw Tunnel Trail, a former railroad tunnel that was converted into a hiking path. The unique thing about this tunnel is that it’s surrounded by waterfalls, making for an incredibly unique and picturesque setting for hiking near Baltimore. If you’re looking for something different than the forest hikes on this list, the Paw Paw Trail is one you can’t miss.

Photo Credit: Bart

Cascade Falls Trail

  • Trail Length: 3 miles
  • Location: Patapsco Valley State Park

Locals love the Cascade Falls Trail at Patapsco Valley State Park because it’s a fun, moderate trail through some muddy and varied terrain. It’s a great place to get your hands (and feet) dirty in a totally spectacular environment. A trail through the woods leads you past rocks and trees to a small but scenic waterfall – the Cascade Falls. Though crowded, the Cascade Falls Trail is a lovely place to escape the city and get outdoors!

Photo Credit: Geoff Livingston (Flickr CC)

Billy Goat Trail

  • Trail Length: 3.6 miles
  • Location: C&O National Historic Park

One of the best hikes near Baltimore, the Billy Goat Trail is a fun and adrenaline-inducing rock trail that runs alongside the Potomac River, right near Great Falls. The entrance/trailhead starts at the parking lot of the C&O National Historic Park – you’ll need to walk a bit along the canal before the official entrance to the Billy Goat Trail itself. Once you are on the trail, you can choose from a few different sections and trails, each ranging from 1.5-2 miles in length.

After you’ve started on the trail, it’s a bit of climbing and hopping over the rocky cliffside of the river before getting to the large, “famous” scramble up the side of a cliff. Leave your trekking poles at home – you’ll need your hands AND feet for this hike!

Photo Credit: Rick Schwartz (Flickr CC)

Difficult Hikes Near Baltimore

Catoctin Trail

  • Trail Length: 10.7 miles
  • Location: Cunningham Falls State Park

The Catoctin Trail is a beautiful point-to-point hiking trail located in Cunningham Falls State Park. Featuring lots of bridges, varied terrain, and plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities, this challenging trail is definitely worth the effort. While we wouldn’t recommend this trail for beginners, intermediate and advanced hikers can enjoy the difficult, technical terrain here. Worst case, you can always shorten the journey or turn it into an out-and-back trail by turning back when you’re ready to wrap up.

Raven Rocks Trail

  • Trail Length: 5.3 miles
  • Location: Bluemont, VA

For hikers who want a short but challenging hike to a spectacular viewpoint of the Appalachian Mountains, the Raven Rocks Trail is a fantastic option for hiking near Baltimore. Dirt trails wind through the forests on a challenging but even uphill, bringing you to outstanding views and cool rock formations along the way. There are 4 different viewpoints along the trail, but the final one is by far the most breathtaking, especially in the fall with shades of red, orange, and yellow. You’ll also cross the Virginia/West Virginia border during this hike!

Photo Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program (Flickr CC)

Pinnacle Overlook via Conestoga Trail

  • Trail Length: 10.3 miles
  • Location: Conestoga, PA

Another very special hike within driving distance of Baltimore is the Pinnacle Overlook Trail, located near Lancaster, PA. As part of the Conestoga Trail, the Pinnacle Overlook hike brings you to some very unique and beautiful views over the Susquehanna River. The terrain here is quite rocky and challenging, not suitable for beginners but fantastic for experienced hikers who want a blend of beautiful views and difficult terrain. If you’re a hiker who is itching for a challenge, there are few better hikes near Baltimore than to Pinnacle Overlook.

Additional Resources on Hiking Near Baltimore

What to Pack

  • Hiking boots – You can’t hike without appropriate footwear, period. For most trails, we recommend an all-purpose waterproof boot with ankle support. We recommend Salomon hiking boots or Keen hiking boots for a comfortable hike.
  • Breathable hiking clothes – For warmer hikes, you’ll want to stay cool in a sweat-wicking shirt/tank top and breathable pants, like these PrAna hiking pants for men and women. For cold-weather hikes, we recommend dressing in layers, including merino wool baselayers, an insulated puffer jacket, and a waterproof outer shell. And don’t forget a pair of the best hiking socks in the world!
  • Trekking poles – You won’t need these for every single hike, but we recommend throwing them in your car anyway just in case. We recommend the Black Diamond foldable trekking poles, which are lightweight and easy to transport.
  • Water bottle – Having water available at all times is a huge must. To spare disposable plastic, we recommend bringing your own refillable water bottle. We’re obsessed with Hydro Flask bottles because they keep water cold for hours, but a good old Nalgene works very well too.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray – This should be self-explanatory, but sweatproof sunscreen and DEET bug spray can help you avoid sunburn and bug bites, two of hiking’s most annoying after-effects.
  • A brimmed hat or cap – The sun can be brutal in open hikes, so always pack a brimmed hat or cap for day hikes in the sunshine.
  • Emergency blanket and first aid kit – We’d strongly recommend bringing a first aid kit and a lightweight emergency blanket on every hike. Why? Because the unfathomable can happen, and it’s always best to play it safe.
  • Durable day pack – A durable day pack is the perfect spot to stash all your hiking gear. While any backpack will do, we recommend Osprey day packs because they’re comfortable and breathable for long hikes.

Wondering what exactly you should pack for your next hike? Visit our Complete Day Hiking Packing List for our full list and our top gear recommendations.

Related Links

If you’re going to hike any challenging trail in the White Mountains, there’s no trail I’d recommend more than the Franconia Ridge Loop. This hike has it all – gorgeous waterfalls, stunning 360-degree views, challenging terrain, and 3 summits in New Hampshire’s 4,000-footer club. When I hiked this trail on a sunny October morning, I couldn’t put my camera down because there were jaw-dropping views seemingly around every corner. Don’t be fooled – you’ll have to work hard for these sweeping vistas on this 9-mile trail that climbs and descends nearly 4,000 feet of elevation gain.

For those up for the challenge, the Franconia Ridge loop is one of the best, most quintessential hikes in New Hampshire, and for good reason: there are few trails with views and landscapes as spellbinding as these. We created this guide to help you feel fully prepared and excited to embark on the Franconia Ridge Loop and experience its magic for yourself.

Looking for the perfect gift for your favorite hiker? Here’s a comprehensive list of our
35 favorite (practical) gifts for hikers, updated for 2020!

The Franconia Ridge Loop Trail: An Overview

Not for the faint of heart, the Franconia Ridge Loop trail leads hikers through White Mountain National Forest to the peaks of three 4,000+ footers – Little Haystack, Mount Lincoln, and Mount Lafayette. You’ll also pass a handful of scenic waterfalls, several steep, rocky areas, and the Greenleaf Hut, a basic refuge for overnight hikers. On days with clear weather and minimal fog, you can see many of the peaks of the White Mountains for miles with some of the best views in the state of New Hampshire.

If you’re still curious about hiking, here’s a quick snapshot of the Franconia Ridge trail:

  • Trail Distance: ~9 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,822 feet
  • Estimated Completion Time: 6 to 8 hours (It took me 6.5 hours to complete the loop)
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Parking: There’s a designated parking lot for the trail – the Old Bridle Path parking lot – that fills up quickly on weekends. If that lot is full when you arrive, there is additional overflow parking further north on Highway 93 that requires an extra 2 mile hike each way.

Things to Know Before Hiking the Franconia Ridge Loop

This trail is well-marked and easy to follow, but there are a few things I wish I knew before embarking on the Franconia Ridge Loop trail:

  • This is NOT a trail for first-time or beginner hikers. While many beginner hikers will attempt this hike, I wouldn’t recommend it for families with very young children or beginners. There are several stream crossings, steep uphills, and exposed, slippery sections that could be quite dangerous. If you’re looking for an easier trail in the White Mountains with exceptional views, I’d recommend Artist Bluff & Bald Mountain.
  • It’s best to hike the Franconia Ridge Loop counter-clockwise. While you can technically hike this loop in either direction, going up Falling Waters and down Old Bridle Path is the “path of least resistance.” Falling Waters is much steeper and muddier, and it’s a lot easier to ascend than descend. This is the direction I went and I’d recommend it to anyone attempting this hike.
  • Going in clear weather will make the hike much safer and more enjoyable. Because of the elevation of the peaks you’ll traverse, there’s a good chance they’ll be covered in fog on rainy or cloudy days. This means you won’t be able to catch any of the stunning views this trail is known for. If you’re able, watch the weather and plan your hike on a day that looks to be clear and sunny. This way, you’ll maximize your chances of a safe hike and gorgeous panoramas of the White Mountains.
  • Pack the right gear and layers for a highly variable and exposed trail. There’s often a huge temperature and weather differential between the base of the trail and the summit/ridgeline area, so come prepared with several hiking layers. Wear waterproof hiking boots, as there are several stream crossings on the Falling Waters trail. I’d also recommend trekking poles for the steep descent.

How to Hike the Franconia Ridge Loop Trail: Our Review

Parking & Getting to the Trail Head

On a sunny morning in October, I embarked on a solo hike on the Franconia Ridge Loop, along with my super active, 15-pound dachshund mix, Stella. The night before, I spent the night in my campervan in Littleton, a nearby city, and woke up around 6 AM to drive to the trailhead. Heading north on Interstate 93, the trail head is on the right hand side of the road, marked as the “Old Bridle Path” parking lot.

Since I got there so early on a weekday, the parking had hardly anyone in it. I got a spot right next to the trailhead entrance, packed my bag, and began hiking. Quickly after beginning the hike, there’s a fork in the trail to head to the Old Bridle Path to the left or Falling Waters Trail to the right. Like I mentioned earlier, I chose to go counter-clockwise up Falling Waters.

Ascending via Falling Waters Trail

Immediately after taking the Falling Waters trail, you’ll find the waterfalls, which run basically parallel to the trail for several miles during the ascent. Get your cameras ready, because so many of these waterfalls are photo-worthy!

During the initial ascent is where you’ll find the ~5 or so stream crossings required to stay on the trail – you can absolutely do these without getting your feet wet if you’re creative with your footing over the rocks and have good waterproof boots. I carried Stella over these sections and somehow managed not to end up completely soaked.

The Falling Waters trail begins gradually but quickly picks up steam as the mountainside becomes steeper. You’ll be following blue blazes all the way to the top, so be sure to look out for these if you want the easiest pathways forward. A few times I accidentally strayed from the main trail and I paid for it in extra, unnecessary effort (and overly muddy boots).

After about 1.5 miles or so, we left the waterfalls and hiked up a dirt and rock, forested pathway the rest of the way to the top. There are 8 switchbacks here to take before a steep but gradual slog to the first summit. There’s also an option to take a short detour to Shining Rock, just 0.1 miles out of the way. I didn’t do this but I imagine the viewpoint is well worth the minimal effort. Ascending the rest of the trail is steep, but the trees eventually start to break and the terrain will become rockier, and at this point you’ll know you’re close to the ridge.

Approximately 3 miles in, Stella and I reached the top of your first summit, Little Haystack! The views up here were absolutely phenomenal. We ate a snack and took a break here as we admired the beautiful peaks and silhouettes of the White Mountains, as well as the ridgeline of the Franconia Range toward Mount Lincoln.

Hiking the Ridgeline to the Three Summits

Once we felt rested, Stella and I headed toward the second summit, Mount Lincoln. Yes, that mountain you can see from Little Haystack is Mount Lincoln, which blocked our view of the third and final summit, Mount Lafayette. Here, the blazes change from blue to white, so be sure to look out for the white blazes as you continue toward the ridge on your left.

The ridge area of the trail is completely exposed as it’s above the tree line, and at this point I wished I’d brought a baseball cap or trucker hat to shade my face and eyes from the sun. Oh well…

This area is pretty rocky and steep but doesn’t require too much scrambling. Along the ridge, you’ll continue to see epic panoramas of the surrounding mountains throughout your hike. Watch out for wind up here – when we hiked, it wasn’t too bad but I could imagine it being much windier at times. A good windbreaker or rain jacket would definitely come in handy!

As we summited Mount Lincoln, the peak of Mount Lafayette came into view. We took a short break before the final haul through the saddle and up Mount Lafayette. The Mount Lafayette views are arguably the best of the three mountains, and we took our longest break up there.

All in all, the entire ridge section of the trail was just under 2 miles in length and is absolutely stunning throughout. It took us about 1.5 hours to traverse the ridge, including 20-30 minutes of breaks.

Descending Down Old Bridle Path

The last part of the Franconia Ridge Loop trail descends down Old Bridle Path back to the parking lot. First stop, though, is Greenleaf Hut, a backpacker’s lodge located about 1 mile from the summit. You can actually see it from the ridge, so it doesn’t feel too far away.

Stella and I at first made the mistake of continuing straight in the same direction as the ridge trail to descend Mount Lafayette. This is NOT the way to go if you want to go back to the parking lot. Instead, take a left toward the rock piles and make sure you’re headed toward Greenleaf Hut.

You can see Greenleaf Hut to the left side of this photo…so we knew we were on the right path!

We hiked here the day after it rained, so the descent was very muddy and full of water puddles. Stella loved it, but after I slipped a handful of times, I can’t say I felt the same way. We took a very brief stop at Greenleaf Hut (there’s free drinking water available here but it was otherwise closed) and then continued the last ~3 miles down to the parking lot.

Hiking down Old Bridle Path was mostly gradual, but there were several spots that had steep, rocky sections. These areas of the trail were where I had to use my hands the most. I didn’t bring trekking poles on this hike, but during the descent, I sorely wish I did. My left knee was throbbing at the end of the hike and I think it would have felt a lot better had I brought extra support for the hike down.

The entire 9-mile hike took me 6.5 hours, including ~45 minutes of breaks throughout the course of the day. I began just before 8 AM and finished the hike at 2:30 PM, with enough time to drive to Manchester and meet a friend for an early dinner.

The Bottom Line

In nearly two months spent in New England over the course of September and October, Franconia Ridge was my favorite hike I did. While I still have a few hikes in Maine and Vermont on my list, Franconia Ridge will forever be one of my most beloved hikes on the East Coast.

If you’re an experienced hiker and are willing to take on a challenge, I would 100% recommend the Franconia Ridge Loop as a must-do hike in the White Mountains. For all the effort it takes to get through this strenuous hike, the views are absolutely worth it. I’d do this hike again and again.

You can see all three peaks of the mountains you just hiked from Old Bridle Path

Additional Resources for Hiking in New Hampshire

What to Bring

  • Hiking boots – You can’t hike without appropriate footwear, period. For most trails, we recommend an all-purpose waterproof boot with ankle support. We recommend Salomon hiking boots or Keen hiking boots for a comfortable hike.
  • Breathable hiking clothes – For warmer hikes, you’ll want to stay cool in a sweat-wicking shirt/tank top and breathable pants, like these PrAna hiking pants for men and women. For cold-weather hikes, we recommend dressing in layers, including merino wool baselayers, an insulated puffer jacket, and a waterproof outer shell. And don’t forget a pair of the best hiking socks in the world!
  • Trekking poles – You won’t need these for every single hike, but we recommend throwing them in your car anyway just in case. We recommend the Black Diamond foldable trekking poles, which are lightweight and easy to transport.
  • Water bottle – Having water available at all times is a huge must. To spare disposable plastic, we recommend bringing your own refillable water bottle. We’re obsessed with Hydro Flask bottles because they keep water cold for hours, but a good old Nalgene works very well too.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray – This should be self-explanatory, but sweatproof sunscreen and DEET bug spray can help you avoid sunburn and bug bites, two of hiking’s most annoying after-effects.
  • A brimmed hat or cap – The sun can be brutal in open hikes, so always pack a brimmed hat or cap for day hikes in the sunshine.
  • Emergency blanket and first aid kit – We’d strongly recommend bringing a first aid kit and a lightweight emergency blanket on every hike. Why? Because the unfathomable can happen, and it’s always best to play it safe.
  • Durable day pack – A durable day pack is the perfect spot to stash all your hiking gear. While any backpack will do, we recommend Osprey day packs because they’re comfortable and breathable for long hikes.

Wondering what exactly you should pack for your next hike? Visit our Complete Day Hiking Packing List for our full list and our top gear recommendations.

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